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Waste-to-energy potential reward seems worth risk

August 30, 2013

We tend to view projects that seem too good to be true with a raised eyebrow. But if the Washington County landfill can actually be “mined” for energy, it certainly would be a welcome use of rubbish that must otherwise be buried at high cost.

America First Inc. wants to establish a public-private partnership with Washington County, a venture that would turn solid waste into alternative energy.

The county’s investment in the operation appears to be relatively small. It would set aside 15 acres at the landfill, which private investors would develop for the manufacturing of burnable pellets and synthetic liquid fuel. While not as green as solar or wind energy, these products are still cleaner than coal.

Further, the county could earn as much as $75,000 a month — or 40 percent — of the profits. County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said there will be no upfront costs for the county and no further financial obligation.

Obviously, this is not money in the bank. Many proposals that purport to spin garbage into gold never pan out. A sizable waste stream is required, and environmental permits are not always a given. But if there is truly no more cost to the county than 15 acres of land, it’s hard to argue that the potential reward isn’t worth the risk.

Washington County has been slow to join the waste recycling efforts that have been standard operating procedure in other counties for years. Because of this, residents have been throwing recyclables into the landfill, which of course is not an inexpensive scenario in the big picture.

America First’s plan might mitigate this disadvantage and add significantly to the life of the landfill. If it delivers even half of what it claims, this could be a meaningful improvement for waste management in the county, and we echo the commissioners’ support for moving forward with the planning process.

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